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FGM inquiries 'a tough challenge'

Police are investigating rising numbers of female genital mutilation (FGM) cases without charging people with offences, new figures suggest.

Forces across the UK revealed dozens of suspected FGM offences had been recorded over the last three years but only a handful of arrests had been made.

The NSPCC said the lack of convictions highlighted the "tough challenge" facing police, while one FGM survivor said the practice remained "secretive" among communities carrying it out.

The figures come after the Government unveiled plans to prosecute parents who fail to prevent their daughter being subjected to FGM. Meanwhile, two men facing the UK's first prosecution over FGM are due to go on trial next year.

In a Freedom of Information (FOI) response to the Press Association, o ne of the country's biggest forces, West Midlands Police, revealed 49 FGM cases were investigated between January and June - more than the total number of cases the force recorded last year.

The force revealed 41 cases were investigated in 2013, compared with 25 in 2012 and eight in 2011. Two people were arrested in 2012 but no one was charged between 2011 to June this year.

Avon and Somerset investigated 16 suspected FGM offences last year, up from four in 2012 and six in 2011.

The force also investigated six cases between January and June this year but refused to provide information on the number of arrests or charges.

Police Scotland said a strategic group set up last year to tackle FGM had investigated 14 child welfare concerns involving 16 girls in 2013/14. In each case no criminality was found, a force spokesman said.

Staffordshire Police investigated six FGM cases between January and June this year, a further 10 cases in 2013 and one case in 2012. There were no arrests or charges.

Sussex Police said it had responded to 12 "incidents of intelligence-led FGM-related reports". One arrest was made but no one was charged.

Hampshire, Thames Valley, Suffolk, Lancashire and North Wales police forces also investigated suspected FGM offences in the last three years but no was arrested or charged.

West Yorkshire Police said it had recorded one FGM-related crime since 2011 but refused to provide information on whether anyone had been arrested or charged.

Many forces said they had not recorded any FGM cases but pointed out that other agencies may have been involved in cases.

Meanwhile, some forces refused to reveal whether they had investigated cases of FGM over concerns for women and girls subjected to the procedure.

Scotland Yard did not respond to the Press Association with the number of cases it had investigated.

Sarian Karim Kamara, who underwent the procedure in Sierra Leone when she was 11, said an increase in FGM cases being investigated by some police forces was "a positive thing".

Ms Kamara, who lives in Peckham, south west London said: "We should not forget this is a very secretive act and it's often underground.

"For the police to be investigating these cases, it shows lots of people are aware now and people working with women and children are confident to ask questions.

"If the prosecutions came it would a good thing, but we want education.

"Most women and girls affected don't know it's a crime.

"The fact people are realising how bad the practice is and its effect on girls and women like me, it's a positive thing. It's going to take time."

The NSPCC said police faced a "tough challenge" investigating cases of FGM which it described as "a hidden and complex cultural form of child abuse".

The charity said its FGM helpline had received 321 reports since it launched last June - 148 of which had been referred to police and children's services.

John Cameron, the NSPCC's head of child protection, said: "These figures do not come as a surprise to us.

"We know that the police face a very tough challenge in gaining the appropriate evidence to prove that a child is at risk of FGM - a hidden and complex cultural form of child abuse.

"The Government has recognised the difficulties the authorities face in prosecuting the perpetrators of this crime and we hope the police's ability to bring people to justice will be strengthened with the proposed new legislation.

"Although there is currently a lack of convictions, it is encouraging that more FGM related concerns are being reported to the police and we hope their intervention has prevented children from becoming victims of this abuse.

"We believe far more needs to be done to help victims deal with the trauma they have suffered which can have mental and physical consequences throughout their lives."

The Association of Chief Police Officers said every allegation of FGM was "treated seriously and thoroughly investigated" and it was "heartened" that more people were confident to report suspected cases.

Many calls to police related to concerns about the welfare of suspected victims, rather than specific crimes, and therefore arrests or charges were "not appropriate", it said.

Commander Mak Chishty, national policing lead for honour-based violence, forced marriage and FGM, said: "As a service, we are expanding the scope of our investigations and looking to target this harmful practice in a variety of ways, not just looking for those who are involved in cutting girls, but also those who aid, abet, counsel or procure FGM.

"From the money lender who knowingly lends money to a family to take their daughter abroad to be cut, to the travel agent who books the flights, knowing the purpose of the trip - even the taxi driver who turns a blind eye to the purpose of the journey to take the family to the airport."

He added: "I am heartened that people are becoming increasingly confident in reporting suspected FGM - it shows that we are getting the message out to communities and other professionals that FGM is a crime and will not be tolerated."

The UK's first prosecution over FGM appeared at the Old Bailey last week.

Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, 32, from the Whittington Hospital in north London, and a second man, who cannot be named, deny the charges against them and are due to stand trial next year.

MPs have warned that the failure to tackle the growing practice of female genital mutilation in the UK is a "national scandal" that has resulted in the preventable abuse of thousands of girls.

In a hard-hitting report last month, the Commons Home Affairs Committee said FGM may be one of the most prevalent forms of "severe physical child abuse" taking place in Britain, with an estimated 65,000 girls under the age of 13 at risk.

There are an estimated 170,000 women and girls in the UK who have undergone FGM, the report said, while in two London boroughs almost one in 10 girls are born to mothers who have suffered the procedure and are therefore themselves at risk.


From Belfast Telegraph